- United Kingdom
- Protestantism gained its first foothold in the British Isles thanks to King Henry VIII's search for a male heir. His divorce of the Catholic Catherine of Aragon brought a break with the pope and the Roman Church. The many English nobles and churchmen leaning toward Protestantism, including Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas CRANMER, used the opportunity to push Henry and the newly independent Church of England in their direction.It was under Edward VI (r. 1547-53) that Protestantism took firm hold within the church. After a brief Catholic restoration under Mary I (r. 1553-58). Elizabeth I (1558-1603) gave to the British church its unique stance, the VIA MEDIA between Catholicism and Calvinism. The Church of England would have bishops, a vernacular liturgy (as found in the Book of Common Prayer), and a distinctly Calvinist flavor in its formal statement of faith. This compromise faith became known as Anglicanism, which was imposed on Wales and Ireland as well.Events had developed differently in Scotland, where John Knox led the Scottish church to adopt the Reformed faith and polity he had absorbed as an exile in Geneva. The Church of Scotland became Presbyterian, and those who aligned themselves with the Church of England remained in the minority, eventually forming a Scottish Episcopal Church.The church under Elizabeth and her successors faced continual pressure from Puritanism, supported by Calvinists who sought to abolish the episcopacy in favor of a Presbyterian polity (with a few advocating Congregationalism). The Presbyterians came to power in the 1640s under Oliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth. Anglican order, belief, and practice were replaced with the system embodied in the Westminster Confession of Faith and the two Westminster catechisms.The shifts in British religious life, however, came to an end with the return of a king to rule England in 1660 and the restoration of Anglicanism, which subsequently remained the dominant faith in England and Wales. Puritan dissent survived in the Presbyterian, Congregational, and Unitarian Churches. Congregationalism would find its strongest support in Wales.During the 1600s, another dissenting group appeared, the Baptists. They favored adult Baptism and rejected any attempt to tie the church to the state. The most radical movement, however, was the Quakers, whose members insisted on following their inner Light along with Bible teachings.Some dissenting groups, unable to make headway in England, relocated to the new British settlements overseas, most notably the Congrega-tionalists in Massachusetts and the Quakers in Pennsylvania. Simultaneously, the Anglican Church began an organized effort to provide services for its members outside of England, leading to the formation of the first two international missionary organizations at the end of the 17th century, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, both of which continue to supply personnel and literature to Anglicans worldwide.Puritanism had sought to infuse a personal faith in its followers; their leaders periodically launched efforts to revive faith in what they saw as spiritually dead churches. Various efforts through the 17th century culminated in the careers of the Wesley brothers, John and Charles, and their singular effort to revive the nation in the mid-1700s through the Methodist movement.Methodism was intimately connected with the MoRAViAN CHURCH, and from it absorbed an interest in foreign missions. in the 1770s, Methodist preachers were dispatched to the British American colonies, where after the American Revolution an independent Methodist Church arose in the new United States. Thomas Coke, who John Wesley sent to America to set up the new church, pioneered a vision of a world missionary movement. Coke presented his plan for a global mission to his Methodist colleagues in 1784; its enactment turned Methodism into a global presence.A few years after Coke, in 1792, William CAREY helped found the Baptist Missionary society to send missionaries overseas. Eventually, a set of denominational missionary agencies arose, from the London Missionary Society (1796), which worked among several Calvinist churches, to the Church Missionary Society (1799, Anglican). In the middle of the 19th century, independent faith missions, such as the China Inland Mission, began to form. England became the most important center for the global spread of Protestantism through the 19th century.In Ireland, support for Catholicism became identified with the aspiration of the irish to throw off British rule. Catholicism was legalized in 1829, and the Church of ireland (Anglican) was disestablished in 1869. Through the 1870s, most church parishes reverted to Catholicism and the Church of ireland became a minority church. Even in Protestant Northern ireland, Anglicans fell behind the Presbyterian Church, which had grown strong from scottish migration into the region.Throughout the 20th century, the Church of England, its Anglican sister, the Church of Wales, and the Presbyterian Church of scotland formed a structure that blanketed the united Kingdom with a Protestant Christian presence, though surveys have shown a steady decay of support. The old dissenting churches that originated in the Puritan and Methodist movements also seemed to be loosing membership. At the same time, England became home to the wide spectrum of Protestant and Free Church organizations so identified with the united states. Numerous small Christian communities - Holiness, Pentecostal, Adventist, and Evangelical - emerged. In addition, a variety of groups from former British colonies (especially Jamaica and Nigeria) also entered the country. Methodism was by no means the last of the revival/revitalization movements to emerge in Great Britain. The Christian story was dotted with efforts such as the Albury Conferences, the Keswick movement, the 1905 revival in Wales that heralded the arrival of PENTECOSTALiSM,and the Charismatic movement of the late 20th century. Each of the revivals produced new Protestant denominations.in a countertrend, the older British churches were enthusiastic supporters of the Ecumenical movement. The various Methodist groups formed in the 19 th century reunited in the Methodist Church in 1932; Presbyterian and Congregational churches merged in stages into the Reformed Church of the United Kingdom; and most of the schismatic scottish Presbyterians rejoined the Church of scotland. Besides these three churches and the Church of England, no less than a half-dozen more uK-based churches are members of the World Council of Churches. Other unity efforts include the Churches Together in Britain and ireland, Churches Together in England, and the Afro-West indian united Council of Churches.Evangelicals are also active in England. The Evangelical Alliance of the united Kingdom adheres to the European Evangelical Alliance (with which it shares headquarters in London) and through it to the World Evangelical Alliance.As the new century began, the Church of England (and its sister Anglican churches) retained the allegiance of some 44 percent of the public in the united Kingdom. Roman Catholics approached 10 percent with the remaining Protestants making up about 12 percent. There is a significantly high nonreligious community (about 11 percent), though it is not as large as other European countries such as Denmark and the Czech Republic. At the same time, the Church of England and other older churches carry a large number of nonpracticing Christians on their rolls.Further reading:■ D. W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989)■ Peter Brierley, "Christian" England: What the English Church Census Reveals (London: MARC Europe, 1991)■ The Church of England Yearbook (London: Church Publishing House, published annually)■ Grace Davie, Religion in Britain since 1945 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994)■ Sheridan Gilley and W. J. sheils, eds., A History of Religion in Britain: Practice and Belief from Pre-Roman Times to the Present (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994)■ Roy Kerridge, The Storm Is Passing Over: A Look at Black Churches in Britain (London: Thames & Hudson, 1995)■ Paul Weller, ed. Religions in the UK: A Multi-Faith Directory (Derby, U.K.: University of Derby/Inter Faith Network for the United Kingdom, 1993).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.